Ilana Cyna

Test Retakes…My Take

Earlier this morning I read a blog post by @mrdardy titled, “The Case For, and Against, Test Retakes”. His post was inspired by a Twitter conversation about the Edutopia article titled, “The Case for Not Allowing Test Retakes”. I, too, read that article and I have been thinking about it ever since. The Edutopia article states that test retake opportunities demotivate students, deflect their attention from their studies to their electronic devices, and reduce teacher effectiveness due to additional time spent grading.

I do believe that students need to prepare for upper education (college, university) where retakes are not an option. I also agree that sometimes allowing retakes decreases the initial effort by students as they know there is always a second chance. However, I also think that test retakes are a necessity. I allow retakes, or more so, I require them. If a student has performed poorly on a test then it is my job to figure out why and to offer an opportunity to show improvement and comprehension of the topic at hand. I work with that student independently to try to determine and resolve the issue, reteach as necessary, and then retest in some format to ensure the student is ready to move on. Retest grades do not replace the originals, rather they are averaged or used to show growth in learning. It is my responsibility to teach my students, not just teach them until the test date. And if we move on to the next topic, which often builds from the last, and that student is lacking the required knowledge and skills, then that student would just be on a staircase that is spiralling downwards. I want my students moving upwards.

I have not found a lack of motivation as a result of this practice. I find that students still study and want to do well. They want the high grade the first time around for their own self-confidence. They want to know that they have the ability to succeed without having to relearn, and it inspires them to come for extra assistance BEFORE the next test to help prevent it from happening again. I also do not think that it makes me inefficient. Rather, it inspires me to find ways to better support my students and makes me more aware of the needs of each learner.

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The CEMC from The University of Waterloo

I have always been good at finding resources on the internet. However, once I discovered the Twitter math community the resources I have bookmarked and saved have grown exponentially. I am grateful for all of the documents and websites that have been shared and highlighted through the MTBoS. I am Canadian, and today I would like to highlight a source from my neck of the woods – The Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) from The University of Waterloo. I first encountered the CEMC website many years ago when my grade 7 and 8 students started writing the Gauss math contest, which is hosted by the university. There are actually a variety of contests that are hosted by the university, ranging in grades from 7 to 12. The contests can be written at your own school and then the marks are sent in to the university. You can access the main contest page here. Clicking on any of the contest links will take you to pages with more detailed information as well as a Past Contest link with years of contests and their answers going back to 2001. You can even use the problem set generator tool to bring up a variety of questions on specific topics.

Under Courses and Web Resources you should check out their Real World Math activities as well as their Math Circles and Emmy Noether math clubs. Although Math Circles are run at the university, they have posted all of the grade 6-12 resources dating back to 2009.

The CEMC also runs a Problem of the Week throughout the school year, delivered right to your inbox. On this page you can also find the archived problems from the past two school years. Previous years used to be available, but it looks as if an Ontario school board has archived them on their site, and you can access them here. The CEMC is also launching a Problem of the Month, and that begins in October.

Be sure to check out their open courseware, which they have been finalizing over the last year. It includes math lessons and resources for grades 6 to 12 as well as problem solving and computer programming.

Finally, don’t miss the Wired Math section. This is another set of resources for grades 7-10, focused on games and extra challenges (worksheets and answers provided).


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Making Ends Meet…updated yet again

I have previously written about a financial planning project that I do with my grade 8 students called “Making Ends Meet”. You can read about it here and here. In this project the students are given the role of a recent graduate about to start their first post-university job. The students need to create a monthly budget so that they can move out on their own and ensure that they can pay all of their bills. I have always loved this project and thought that it was a good learning experience. The most valuable feedback, though, has been from former students. Over the last year or so I have heard from more and more students about how much of an impact this project had on their way of thinking, and how it opened their eyes to the world beyond their middle school existence. I am sharing the updated version that I did this past year and you can access it here. After the students create the budget they are given two unexpected problems to deal with as well as some other reflection questions. These are not part of the student handout, but I am happy to share with them if you contact me through Twitter.



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Welcome to Blaugust 2019!

In June I was reading Volume 58 of Sarah Carter’s @mathequalslove Monday Must Reads. In it she referenced a task from @MrNiksMathClass on Twitter. I glanced past the task quickly as it was for high school and I teach middle school, and I didn’t find it relevant for my needs. However, I reread her post in July and went to check out Math with P. Nik’s Twitter feed. And I am glad I did.

His feed is full of thoughtful math problems and they are not just for high school. There are many that are very relevant for middle school students. I spent many hours that day in July going through his feed and filing away the problems that are relevant for my units. I will definitely keep my eye on his feed during the next school year.

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Bulletin Board Inspiration

Next year I am in a different classroom and have twice the bulletin board space to cover. I have been working on ideas of what to do with all of that space. Today I came across this post on Twitter:


I already maintain a puzzle board in the hallway (see related post) and hope to continue this year, but it is the space inside of my room that needs to be filled. I think I will have three bulletin boards to fill. I am inspired by the picture above and love the idea of creating a bulletin board around WODB. I worry about the upkeep throughout the year, but I plan on enlisting the help of my students. Be sure to check out the WODB website and Twitter feed for problem ideas.

Another bulletin board could be a math word wall. I have seen versions where the teacher creates it and it remains for the year as well as versions where the teacher creates it but it changes with each unit. When researching options I came across this site from the Virginia Department of Education. It contains pre-made math word wall cards for various ages and stages. Another option is to do what a friend of mine does, which is to have the students write the word wall cards as the concepts come up during lessons (sounds more authentic to me!). I previously wrote about a great site for fun bulletin board letters and you can read about that here.

I am still working on ideas for the third interactive board….any suggestions?


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Charged Up with Static Electricity Centres

I know that this idea was not originally mine. I have searched online for the original owner but cannot find the source, so I apologize for not giving credit where it is due. I took the original source and reworked it for my purposes. This resource has seven centres for static electricity. I have an instruction sheet for each centre as well as a student booklet. My first unit in grade 6 was a science skills unit. In that unit we focus a lot on the scientific method, including how to properly write a problem and hypothesis and how to identify independent, dependent, and controlled variables. These centres do not include a section for the variables, but that can easily be added. You can access the documents here.

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Thinkfun, the company behind the famous Rush Hour game, has a section on their website for educators. Head over to the Downloadable Games section for a selection of strategy games, brainteasers, and dice games in both colour and black and white versions. They also provide some resources to supplement the Rush Hour game as well as to allow students to play with a paper version of the game. Check out the Group Games and Activities section and look through the Big Games downloads for some larger group activities.

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tekhnologic Game and Activity Templates

My challenge continues … it is always hard to find time to write during the school year. Today I am sitting in a ski lodge while our students are on the slopes, and so I have found myself with a few extra minutes.

About a month ago I came across a PowerPoint resource that had a spinner wheel on one of the pages. I had never seen this before and I wanted to know how it was created. In my search for that information I came across the tekhnologic website, developed by a teacher in Japan. The downloads page has a series of game and activity templates for PowerPoint, Excel, and Word. You can also find some of these on the collections page, where PowerPoint game templates and ideas are highlighted.

And if you are interested in the spinner wheel PowerPoint template, you can find it here.

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And so it begins.

I have not written in over a week as I have been consumed with back to school preparation. Today was the first day of school and I am exhausted, but I wanted to take a few moments to highlight what I did with my classes.

This year I am teaching grades 6, 7, and 8 science (two classes each) and one grade 8 math class. Being the first day we had a modified schedule and I did not teach all of my classes.

After organizing lockers and reviewing essential and emergency routines, I had a few minutes left with my first class, a grade 7 science class. I decided to do Alicia Johal’s personality beakers. Over the weekend I had prepared one of my own to show as a sample. I intend to do this activity with each of my science classes at some point this week.

I did not teach a math lesson as the grade 8 class had an introduction to the MYP Community project during my time with them. I had one grade 8 science class today, and I did a few activities with them. First we did Dogs and Turnips. In this activity there are 23 words in an envelope and those 23 words can be formed into a sentence that describes a scenario. Without looking, students pick out five words and try to determine the scenario from those five words. They then pick five more words and decide if their original idea has changed. If so, they write their idea for the new scenario. They repeat this process with another five words, and then finally with the last 8 words. We compared what different groups had hypothesized and discussed similarities and differences. Next we did the Square Puzzle Challenge. Students were given five puzzle pieces, one of which is a square. First I asked them to show me a square in the easiest possible way. Most students quickly identified the square puzzle piece. Then I asked them to put the square puzzle piece aside and make a square with the remaining pieces. Most students were able to form the square fairly quickly and I allowed the others to “call a friend” for a hint. Finally I asked them to make a new square, this time incorporating the square puzzle piece. This one was much more difficult for them, and many more students needed hints. At the end we discussed the similarities and differences about both activities and we connected it to how ideas change as new information is presented in the science lab.

My last class of the day was a grade 6 science class. After spending some group circle time with them (I had never taught them before and needed to learn their names!) we did an activity called Order Up!. Sometime in the summer I came across three booklets of instant challenges, and this activity comes from Practice Set A. In this activity I prepared number cards from 1 to 6 and a variety of different colour squares that were cut from construction paper. To add more of a challenge, I used different shades of some of the colours (light blue, dark blue, light green, dark green, etc). These were set up behind a screen (I used about six privacy shields to make the screen). I put the students into groups and told them that they would have to find a way to communicate the order of four colours to the rest of the group, but without speaking. I gave them five minutes at the beginning to come up with a communication system for their group. One at a time, each group sent up a person to look at the order of the colours behind the screen. That person then had one minute to communicate the order to their team and have the team guess the colours. I had prepared 10 different colours and so I changed the colours between groups’ turns. Sometimes I changed all of the colours and sometimes I kept a few of the old ones, but in different positions, and mixed in some new ones. During this first round only two of the five groups were able to communicate all four colours in the correct order. Then I gave all groups another few minutes to revise their communication system and we repeated the activity, but this time I had them guess six colours instead of four and I gave all groups an additional twenty seconds. They were much more successful this time and they came up with some interesting and creative communication systems. They had even found a way to communicate light shades vs dark shades. We debriefed the activity and discussed its purpose (team building, problem solving, communication and language) before I dismissed them for the day.

All in all it was a great first day. I hope yours was, as well.


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I have been looking for open source curricula for middle school math and science, specifically for Ontario, and the pickings are slim.

I came across this site from British Columbia. It is not a complete curriculum, but it has a few select modules for various subjects and grades. The Centre for Education and Mathematics and Computing (CEMC) recently released a grade 7 and 8 math curriculum. They also have available content for Advanced Functions, Pre-Calculus, and Calculus and Vectors. Unfortunately these two sites were the only ones that I found that directly matched my curriculum.

There are also some good options beyond Ontario and Canada based curriculum. Below you will find a list of some of the more popular options (focusing on k12 education).



Khan Academy

New Jersey Centre for Teaching and Learning

Illustrative Mathematics and Open Up Resources

Eureka Math


Specifically Online Textbooks:

openstax CNX – Mostly high school math and science textbooks with a few extras

BC Open Ed – Textbooks in many subject areas


Curated Databases:

Merlot – Curated sources across all disciplines

OER Commons – Curated sources across all disciplies


I am sure that I have missed some essentials that should be on this list. But it is late at night and I have been working all day, and my brain is in back-to-school mode. Please let me know what I am missing.

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